The county says the new funding will enable to Arlington and Fairfax to proceed with the streetcar project more rapidly — accelerating the construction timetable by at least a year — partially thanks to eliminating the need to obtain federal funding.
“The Commonwealth is committed to supporting the Columbia Pike project as a funding partner,” Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne said, in a letter to Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova.
The new funding will also help save $25 million in project costs, according to an Arlington County press release. The Columbia Pike streetcar is now estimated to cost $333 million, about half of which will be funded by the state. The other half of the cost will come from regional transportation funds and local commercial property taxes dedicated to transportation projects.
“No Arlington County homeowner-funded General Obligation bonds will be used to finance design and construction of the streetcar,” the county said.
County Board member Libby Garvey, who along with recently-elected Board member John Vihstadt oppose the streetcar, slammed the state’s decision. Garvey issued the following statement, in which she expresses hope that “the wise voters of Arlington” will vote out Board members who support the streetcar.
I could not be more disappointed in the quick decision by Secretary Layne to devote much needed and scarce transportation dollars to a project as foolish and wasteful as the Columbia Pike streetcar. This project will not improve transit on the Pike. In fact, it will make traffic worse as slow streetcars clog up an already congested thoroughfare. Fortunately, I am pretty sure that within 2 years the wise voters of Arlington will have voted out board members who support the streetcar. That will end the project and allow the Commonwealth, despite this ill advised decision by the Secretary, to spend its money on much more worthwhile and needed projects. I hope that will include a modern and cost effective bus rapid transit system on the Pike in Arlington. That’s what both Arlington and the region need.
Vihstadt also issued a statement, in which has charged that the Commonwealth “rushed to judgment and failed to perform the independent due diligence expected of a state agency to fully analyze this ill-advised local government request.”
“Many valuable transportation projects for which there is a broad public consensus, ranging from improved Metro and bus service to road and pedestrian safety enhancements, will be sacrificed for this controversial project that has deeply divided Arlington County and contributed heavily to my election on April 8 as the first non-Democrat to the County Board since 1999,” Vihstadt said.
The county’s press release, after the jump.
The DMV asserts that the smartphone-based services, which allow drivers to make money by using their own cars like a dispatched taxicab, are illegal because they have not received the proper authorization from the DMV to operate in Virginia.
In letters to company officials, the DMV says it will “enforce existing laws by companies… and by individual drivers that lack authority to provide passenger transportation.”
Tonight the Arlington County Police Department said it plans to assist in that enforcement, effective immediately.
“We will enforce it, but it will not be a primary focus of our operations,” ACPD spokesman Dustin Sternbeck told ARLnow.com. “We are going to take a soft approach, but we will not turn a blind eye.”
Both Uber and Lyft, meanwhile, told news outlets that they’ll keep operating in Virginia.
Sternbeck did not clarify how, exactly, officers plan to single out Uber and Lyft drivers for enforcement. While Uber drivers typically operate discreetly, with nothing to outwardly distinguish their vehicles, Lyft drivers are supposed to drive around with a large, pink moustache attached to their car’s grille.
Jon Liss, Executive Director of Tenants and Workers United, which has been rallying local cab drivers against Uber and Lyft, applauded the DMV’s action and called on the Arlington County Board to do more to protect cab drivers.
“It is time for Arlington to get in sync with the state DMV and enforce one set of rules for all taxi-like services,” he said. “Drivers in Arlington deserve ‘dispute resolution’ protections and fair and enforced regulations.”
Arlington Falls Church Young Republicans slammed the state’s response to Uber and Lyft, placing blame on Virginia’s Democratic governor.
“The DMV’s decision to crack down on Lyft and Uber is reprehensible,” said AFCYR Chairman Matthew Hurtt. “During his campaign, Governor McAuliffe emphasized the importance of efficient government and transportation in making the Commonwealth the best place for business. Yet, less than six months into his term, he stands idly by while his administration cracks down on a thriving industry that not only brings jobs to the region, but also provides safe and efficient transportation at an affordable price.”
“The DMV should withdraw their cease and desist letter along with their preposterous interpretation of this law,” Hurtt concluded.
Arlington’s polling places have been open for about four hours, and so far election day appears to be proceeding without a hitch.
As of 9:00 a.m., Arlington County Registrar Linda Lindberg reported being very busy but said there had been no significant issues to report. Although not a major incident, people at the Barrett Elementary School (4401 N. Henderson Road) polling place reported the school’s principal pulled campaign signs out of the ground, claiming they weren’t allowed to be there. After witnesses made a few phone calls to lawyers and the superintendent, the principal learned he was incorrect and apologized for taking down the signs.
Last week, Lindberg noted that already there had been an increase in absentee voting over the 2009 election. This morning she said is was still too early to estimate how many people might turn up to vote in person.
“It’s been pretty steady, that’s about all we know at this point,” Lindberg said. “It’s not outrageous, just pretty steady.”
Voters, however, have been reporting short lines at places like Barrett Elementary.
“I was pretty surprised at how few people were here,” said Melanie Papasian. “After the long lines last year, I expected to see more. Hopefully they come in more by the end of the day.”
“Last year, I got in line at 7:30 a.m. and left the polling place at 9:45,” said Brian Lemak. ”I know off-year elections aren’t as big but I got in and out in 10 minutes, which I was really surprised by.”
At the River House (1600 S. Joyce Street) polling place in Pentagon City, voters repeatedly expressed particular interest in voting in this gubernatorial race, compared with others in recent years.
“This is an important election,” said Dan Bailey. “The governor of Virginia can set a tone and I haven’t liked the tone we’ve had for the last few years.”
Haydn Kuprevich recently moved to Arlington and wanted to fulfill his civic duty.
“It’s something I do every time there’s an election,” said Kuprevich. “It’s important for me to understand the issues people are talking about and what their positions are.”
“I was passionate about everybody having equal rights, I was passionate about women’s rights, I was passionate about looking out for all the people and not a select group in the state, because the governor represents everybody,” said Mary Elizabeth Boyd. “I think the whole country’s going in a certain direction right now and we just have to settle it down and keep hanging in with what we believe in.”
Polls in Arlington remain open until 7:00 p.m. More information, including sample ballots, can be found online.
Real Estate Tax Delinquencies Rise — The number of real estate tax delinquencies in Arlington rose slightly this year, compared to one year prior. A total of 407 taxpayers missed the June 15 real estate tax deadline this year, compared to 387 last year. Those who miss the June 15 deadline are subject to a 10 percent penalty plus accumulating interest. [Sun Gazette]
Comic-Making Exhibit at Artisphere — Starting today through Nov. 3, comic book artists will be taking up residency in Artisphere for the creation of a new comic. On Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons, the public can watch the artists at work, and try their hand at their own comic creations. [DC Conspiracy, Ode Street Tribune]
Lt. Gov. Debate at GMU Arlington Campus — A debate between the Republican and Democratic candidate for Virginia lieutenant governor will be held at Founders Hall on George Mason University’s Arlington campus next month. E.W. Jackson (R) will be debate Ralph Northam (D) starting at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 24.
Flickr pool photo by N ARLINGTON ST
Chopra, who lives with his wife and two children in the Donaldson Run neighborhood, says he’s running to create “new opportunities” for Virginians and to help solve the state’s “biggest challenges.”
Chopra, who was appointed the first Chief Technology Officer of the United States by President Obama, said he’s also going to work to support the president’s reelection. Last month he joined actor Kal Penn at two events for Obama supporters in Arlington.
The following statement was issued by Chopra this afternoon.
“We live in a time of profound change. In our communities, our Commonwealth and our country, people are looking for pragmatic solutions that address our biggest problems, create opportunities and improve our lives.
Ideas matter. And so does action to make our economy work for everyone.
Since I left my position as U.S. Chief Technology Officer, friends, neighbors, business and community leaders have encouraged me to take action by running for statewide office. I’m humbled by their support and pleased to announce that today, after months of reflection, I enthusiastically filed my candidate qualification to seek the Democratic nomination for Lt. Governor in 2013.
As Virginia’s Secretary of Technology, I worked with communities across the Commonwealth to plant the seeds of new ideas to ensure all Virginians have the skills they need to compete in the 21st Century economy. We created hands-on high school technology training through Virginia STAR, accelerated efforts to prepare more people without a high school degree for jobs of the future through PluggedInVA, and harnessed the power of mobile technology to support great teaching through our Learning Without Boundaries initiative.
I remain excited about these efforts and the new opportunities we have to bring Virginians together to solve our biggest challenges in the years ahead. I am committed to seeding innovative ideas that support a quality workforce and educating Virginians throughout their lifetime to strengthen and maintain a state economy that is built to last.
Over the next several months, our Commonwealth and our country face important choices. I will work hard to help elect President Obama, Governor Tim Kaine, and our exceptional roster of Democratic Congressional candidates this November. In addition, in the days, weeks and months ahead, I look forward to continuing to listen to Virginians, hearing directly from them about the issues affecting their families and serving as an enthusiastic advocate on their behalf.”
Worries Over Proposed Constitutional Amendment — A proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution, intended to strengthen protections against local government usage of eminent domain authority, could complicate plans for the Columbia Pike streetcar project. County officials also worry that the amendment could force the county to pay businesses restitution for lost business due to street repairs, snow plowing or even police activity. [Sun Gazette]
H-B Woodlawn Students Protest Parent Plan — H-B Woodlawn secondary program students, who famously create their own courses and spend much of their school time unsupervised, are up in arms over a plan to allow their parents to monitor their academic achievements (or failings) more carefully. [Washington Post]
New Arrival at Central Library: ‘Mein Kampf’ — Arlington Central Library just acquired a brand new version of the Adolf Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf.’ A library spokesman says an older version of the book had to be taken out of circulation due to wear and tear. [Sun Gazette]
Flickr pool photo by wfyurasko
State Change Could Cost Arlington Millions — A proposed change in the way Virginia determines how much localities are reimbursed for road maintenance could cost Arlington $9.2 million per year if approved. [Sun Gazette]
Bikeshare Expansion Approved, Sort Of — The Arlington County Board voted on Saturday to use $1.2 million in state funds to build about 30 new Capital Bikeshare stations along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. Installation of the stations (and nearly 200 new bikes) is expected to wrap up in the summer of 2012. The action isn’t official yet, though. Due to an administrative error, the Board will have to reconsider the item at their Tuesday evening meeting. [Arlington County]
Board Talks Libraries at Meeting — Facing public comments in favor of restoring pre-recession hours at Arlington Public Library branches, the County Board on Saturday reiterated their support for the library. At the same time, members said that they must balance other budget priorities before restoring hours. [Sun Gazette]
Remembering Queen City — Former residents of an African-American enclave in Arlington known as Queen City recently recounted their experiences living there. Queen City was leveled in the mid-1940s t0 make way for the transportation infrastructure necessary for the new Pentagon complex. Many displaced residents settled in the Arlington View or Green Valley neighborhoods. [Patch]
Arlington has had to make service cuts in each of the past two budgets as taxes and other revenue sources dried up. After 2009, assessed property values suffered their first year-over-year decline since 1995, prompting the county to hike property taxes to make up for what otherwise would have been a dramatic loss of revenue.
When it comes to real estate taxes, the county can always increase the tax rate for an expected revenue shortfall. But one area that’s largely out of the county’s control is the funds it receives from the state. And in the past four years, overall state funding to Arlington County — excluding schools — has dropped $18 million.
County Board Member Barbara Favola cited the figure at a board meeting yesterday afternoon.
Starting in FY 2008 and up to the current FY 2011, Arlington has lost progressively more revenue each year:
- FY 2008: -$438,214
- FY 2009: -$2,603,394
- FY 2010: -$7,045,368
- FY 2011: -$7,900,610
Although state revenue still makes up about 6 percent of the Arlington’s budget, the overall decline has meant greater reliance on local sources of revenue, including taxes. As of February, state revenue was expected to decline by $600,000 to $62.6 million in the FY 2012 county budget that’s currently under consideration by the board.
Quarterdeck May Remain Open, After All — TBD is reporting that the owner of Quarterdeck has reopened lease negotiations with the property’s landlord. Last week it was revealed that owner Lou Gatti was telling Radnor / Fort Myer Heights residents that the restaurant would be closing after 31 years in business.
Plastic Bag Tax May Have to Wait — The county board’s desire to impose a 5-cent tax on plastic grocery store bags — similar to the tax currently in place in the District — may have to wait until another year. At Wednesday’s work session between the board and Arlington’s state legislative delegation, bag tax proponent Del. Adam Ebbin said getting Virginia lawmakers to grant Arlington the authority to impose such a tax would likely be “a multi-year effort.” More from the Sun Gazette.
Long-Time Parks Employee Dies — Long-time Parks and Recreation Department supervisor Alan W. Brady has died. Brady, who ran a landscaping business in Arlington after retiring from the department, will be remembered at a memorial service in Ranson, W.V. on Monday. He was 58. More from the Martinsburg Journal.
Flickr pool photo by Patryce
(Updated at 10:30 a.m.) Arlington, the top visitor destination in the state of Virginia, spends just under $1 million on tourism promotion each year. But if the county’s state legislative delegation can’t convince fellow lawmakers to renew the law that allows Arlington to collect those funds as a tax surcharge, the relatively meager tourism budget could drop to zero.
Arlington funds its Convention and Visitors Service through a 0.25 percent surcharge on the standard 5 percent hotel tax. Each year, the county collects $21 million in hotel taxes, or about $5,000 per room, the highest rate in Virginia. Suffice to say that given the hoards of tourists who stay at hotels in Arlington as a cheaper alternative to the District, the surcharge isn’t much of a hindrance.
But the extra quarter of a percentage point, despite having the support of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and the local hotel industry, may be a tough sell in Richmond.
In an anti-tax, Tea Party kind of a year, Arlington’s Democratic lawmakers say that even passing something as simple as a re-authorization for Arlington’s hotel tax surcharge could be difficult.
“It’s going to be extremely challenging to get this bill through this year,” said Del. Bob Brink. “It has the dreaded T-word in it.”
Brink seemed to tacitly acknowledge that the county’s strained relationship with Richmond — caused in part by the county’s HOT lanes lawsuit, the Secure Communities opt-out fiasco and other slights — has also contributed to the degree of difficulty in gaining legislative cooperation.
“We’re in a very challenging environment, both fiscally and otherwise,” Brink said.
At one point board member Chris Zimmerman parted from the board’s stated position and questioned whether it was worth the legislators’ effort for a mere million dollars.
“Should this be one of the things we expend political capital on?” he asked.
In so many words, ‘yes’ seemed to be the response.
“It is going to be a challenge, but I think we can do it,” Brink said.
The current tax authorization expires on Jan. 1, 2012. Arlington will ask that it be extended for another three years. The approval requires a 2/3 vote in each chamber of the state legislature.
Virginia’s transportation chief is gently nudging the federal government for road money while tweaking Arlington’s HOT Lanes lawsuit.
In an interview with WTOP, Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton said that the planned shift of 6,400 Department of Defense jobs to Alexandria’s Mark Center is turning I-395 into a “military corridor.” He quickly added that the state does not have money for any major improvements to the highway, despite dire predictions of heavy congestion as a result of the Mark Center move.
Connaughton did, however, think of one possible way to relieve the congestion. He said a ramp to the center would be built as a result of the I-395 HOT Lanes project. A lawsuit filed by Arlington County is currently preventing the project from moving forward.
Ebbin introduced the bill to the Virginia House of Delegates in 2009 and 2010, each time unsuccessful. He’s hoping for a different result in the upcoming 2011 legislative session.
If enacted into law, the bag fee would protect the environment, Ebbin said. Locally, he added, it would help make waterways like Four Mile Run cleaner.
When polled earlier this week, 52 percent of ARLnow.com readers supported a bag fee or ban.
Here’s the legislative summary of Ebbin’s 2010 bill, the Virginia Waterways Clean Up and Consumer Choice Act.
Paper and plastic bag fee. Imposes a fee of $0.05 on paper and plastic bags used by purchasers to carry tangible personal property from the place of purchase. Durable, reusable plastic bags and bags used for ice cream, meat, fish, poultry, leftover restaurant food, newspapers, dry cleaning and prescription drugs are exempt from the fee. Retailers are allowed to retain $0.01 of the $0.05 fee or $0.02 if the retailer has a customer bag credit program. The revenues raised by the fee will be deposited in the Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund. Failure to collect and remit the fee will result in fines of $250, $500, and $1,000 for the first, second, third and thereafter offenses.
Bayou Bakery Sneak Peak — Eat More Drink More scores the first photos inside Courthouse’s new Bayou Bakery. The elaborately-decorated cafe/restaurant has a distinct New Orleans theme, which extends from the decor to the food. It could be open as soon as Monday, Nov. 15.
Virginia’s Redistricting Process Demystified — The Virginia Public Access Project has a handy video guide to the upcoming redistricting process in the Commonwealth.
Immigrant Groups Continue Push — Arlington has more or less given up on trying to opt out of the Secure Communities immigration enforcement program. But the immigrant rights groups that led the charge for withdrawing from the program aren’t done fighting. They filed a Freedom of Information Act request last month for more details about the opt-out process, and plan on sharing the results with Arlington County. More from the Washington Independent.
Flickr pool photo by pderby
The Arlington County Board is seeking the authority to ban or tax the distribution of single-use plastic bags at retailers in the county, according to the Sun Gazette — but it’s an uphill climb.
Since Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, Arlington must first ask the state legislature for permission to pursue policies not specifically allowed by state law. In past years, the state government has been reluctant to grant Arlington any new taxing power.
Arlington will make its unlikely bag request during the General Assembly session starting Jan. 12.
D.C. has already imposed a tax on disposable plastic bags in an effort to limit their use. Should Arlington follow the District’s example?
County board members are not big fans of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s plan to privatize state liquor stores. At yesterday’s board meeting, members took turns bashing various aspects of the plan.
“It does not come anywhere near funding the transportation needs of the state,” Barbara Favola said, of the plan’s stated goal of helping to fill the $20 billion worth of unfunded transportation needs in Virginia.
“Four-hundred-fifty million dollars is nothing,” said Chris Zimmerman, referring to the estimated one-time revenues that selling state-run ABC stores and auctioning off liquor licenses could provide. He said that one estimate puts the additional amount needed for transportation in Northern Virginia at $500 million per year.
Jay Fisette worried about the loss of the state’s lucrative ABC business, which provides millions each year to fund human services programs. That revenue, he said, would be lost under the plan, choking off the state’s already shrinking human services budget.
Also a concern was the number of new liquor stores and liquor-licensed grocery and convenience stores that could be approved under the plan. Zimmerman cited a report saying the number of stores selling liquor in Arlington would increase from 8 to 26.
“I think this has great potential to affect our community in a negative manner,” said Mary Hynes. She said it would be easier for teens to buy liquor from grocery stores than it currently is to buy liquor from the state-run ABC stores.